George Town is the capital city of the State of Penang. Named after Britain's King George III, George Town was the first British settlement in Southeast Asia and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site[1]. The metropolitan area, known as the Greater Penang Conurbation, has a combined population of 2.5 million, making it the second largest metropolitan area in Malaysia after Greater Kuala Lumpur[2].

George Town was founded in 1786 by Captain Francis Light. It initially was the capital of the British crown colony of the Straits Settlements, which consisted of Penang, Singapore and Malacca[3]. As a centre of trade, George Town grew rapidly and served as a melting pot for various cultures which traded on its shores. The settlement was declared a city in 1957 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, becoming Malaysia's first and only city in its early years (other than Singapore between 1963 and 1965). In 2015, Penang Island, on which George Town is located, was also awarded city status.

George Town's historic centre has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. The enclave consists of colonial architecture built during the heyday of British rule over the Straits Settlements, mixed with Chinese shophouses, five foot ways and places of worship of various religions. George Town is awarded the UNESCO listing for its "unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia"[1].

Likewise, George Town is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Malaysia. It has been listed as one of the top global travel destinations by the likes of The Guardian[4], CNN[5], Los Angeles Times[6] and Forbes[7]. Furthermore, both Forbes and CNN has listed George Town as one of the best budget cities to retire in the world[8][9]. George Town was also ranked 8th. in the ECA International's list of most liveable cities in Asia[10]. Additionally, George Town is Malaysia's most important medical tourism hub[11] and northern financial centre.


Founding of George Town

Fort Cornwallis, George Town, Penang

Fort Cornwallis, built on the site where Captain Francis Light had landed.

Francis Light, George Town, Penang

A statue of Captain Francis Light still stands within the grounds of Fort Cornwallis.

George Town was founded on 11 August 1786 by Captain Francis Light[12], a trader for the British East India Company, as a trading post and a repair base for the Royal Navy in the Malay Peninsula. He had arrived at the then uninhabited Penang Island on 17 July 1786. Light then obtained the island from the Sultan of Kedah "in the name of His Britannic Majesty, King George III and the Honourable East India Company" and founded a settlement at the northeastern promontory of the island.

Penang Museum historical painting N171b

1811 painting of George Town.

On 12 August 1786, Light renamed the island the Prince of Wales Island in honour of the heir to the British throne, as well as naming the new settlement George Town in honour of King George III.

George Town was Britain's first settlement in Southeast Asia, as well as the first crown colony in Malaya. This also marked the beginning of more than a century of British involvement in Malaya.

For Light, Penang Island was a "convenient magazine for trade"[13] and an ideal location to check French and Dutch territorial ambitions in the region. At the time, the Dutch were dominating the spice trade which originated from the Southeast Asian region by controlling what is now Indonesia, and the British East India Company was determined to gain a foothold in the Malay Peninsula. Penang Island's strategic location at the northern edge of the Strait of Malacca, which was then an important shipping route from India to Qing China, also compelled him to form a British trading post on Penang Island.

Light established George Town as a free port to entice traders away from Dutch trading posts in the region. Trade in George Town soon grew exponentially - incoming ships and boats to Penang rose from 85 in 1786 to 3,569 in 1802[14]. Light also encouraged immigrants by firing silver dollars from his ship's cannons into the jungle and promising them as much land as they could clear. By 1792, just six years after Light first arrived on the island, the population had grown from under 100 to over 10,000[15].

In its early years, the urban development of George Town was relatively haphazard and unplanned, with buildings and streets created on an ad hoc basis[16][17]. Four of the streets marked the earliest limits of George Town - Light Street, Pitt Street, Chulia Street and Beach Street[18]. The historic commercial centre around Beach Street, located next to the harbour, was arranged in a grid-like pattern and segmented into banking and trading areas[19]. Government buildings and European residences were erected around Light Street, Farquhar Street and Weld Quay. The Chinese gradually built a 'Chinatown' covering China Street, Muntri Street, Chulia Street and King Street. Meanwhile, Indian Muslims were clustered at Acheen Street, Pitt Street and Armenian Street, whereas the Hindus were concentrated at Queen Street, creating a 'Little India'. Villages dominated the southern part of the town and beyond.

A committee of assessors was established in George Town in 1800[20]. It was the first local authority established in British Malaya.

Colonial George Town

Beach Street Penang

Beach Street, the historical commercial centre of George Town.

Penang Harbour HMS Magpie 1884 George Town map

1884 map of George Town. Hills can be clearly seen to the west of George Town.

The British East India Company intended to make Penang Island a centre of spice production in Southeast Asia. To that end, spice farms were established throughout the island, and crops like nutmeg, cloves and pepper soon became the most treasured commodities[21]. The export of spices helped the Company to cover the administrative costs of Penang in its early years.[22]

In 1826, George Town was made the capital of the newly established Straits Settlements, which consisted of Penang, Singapore and Malacca[3]. However, the capital was moved to Singapore in 1832 due to Singapore's commercial and strategic prominence.

In spite of this, Penang retained a secondary importance after Singapore, serving as an important feeder to Singapore - funnelling the exports meant for global shipping lines by ocean-going ships which had bypassed other regional ports. Towards the end of the 19th. century, the tin mining boom in the neighbouring Sultanate of Perak also made George Town one of the biggest tin-exporting entrepots in Malaya, rivalling the Port of Singapore in terms of tin exports.[23]

The Municipal Council of George Town was formed in 1857, when the local government was placed in the hands of five municipal commissioners, three of whom were elected by taxpayers[19].

The influx of immigrants and traders led to more efforts to improve the urban infrastructure, such as sanitation, transportation and public health. Main roads were extended into the agricultural plantations in the then forested hinterland. Indian convict workers were often brought in to work on these infrastructure, a long-standing practice by the British administrators at the time.[24] The Indians who moved to Penang Island gradually found employment in other sectors such as the civil service, military and as private servants to the colonial officials.

Concurrently, Chinese immigrants also flooded onto Penang Island in great numbers, causing the Chinese population in George Town to outnumber the Malays by the 1850s.[25] The influx of Chinese caused a major problem - turf wars between Chinese triads. The worst incident occurred in August 1857, when the Penang Riots broke out.[26] Rival Chinese secret societies, Kean Teik Tong and Ghee Hin Kongsi, clashed in the streets of George Town for ten days, which was only ended by British intervention. The then lieutenant-governor, Colonel Edward Anson, had to call in sepoy reinforcements to quell the rioting.

Also in 1867, the Straits Settlements was made a British crown colony, thereby transferring the administration of Penang, Singapore and Malacca from the British East India Company to the Colonial Office in London. With this upgrade in political status, came vast improvements in law enforcement, as Penang's police force was strengthened. The Chinese secret societies were outlawed as well, putting an end to the decades-old problem.[27][28]

Jewish Cemetery Penang Dec 2006 001

Jewish cemetery in George Town. The last Jew in Penang passed away in 2011, bringing an end to Penang's Jewish community.

Due to its prosperity, George Town also attracted immigrants from far and wide, turning the city into a ethnic and religious melting pot. Aside from Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian (mixed European and Asian ancestry) and Peranakan (mixed Sino-Malay ancestry) immigrants, Jews, Armenians and Germans made their presence felt in George Town. There was a sizeable Jewish enclave[29] and a financially-influential German merchant community[30], while the Armenians left their legacy in the form of one of the most famous hotels in the city, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel[31].

By the late 19th. century, George Town's economic boom as a vital entrepot drew many Singapore-based mercantile companies to open branches in George Town[32]. With banks and private companies swarming to George Town, the Straits Settlements government, which was based in Singapore, could no longer ignore the development of George Town. Many colonial administrative buildings were subsequently constructed along Light Street and Farquhar Street, which formed the civic precint of George Town. The banks clustered at Beach Street also brought impressive colonial architecture with them.

Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang Dec 2006 003

The Eastern & Oriental Hotel at Farquhar Street was founded by the Sarkies brothers, who also established The Raffles Hotelin Singapore.

At the turn of the century, George Town, with a large Chinese population, was a natural place for the Chinese nationalist Sun Yat-sen to raise funds for his revolutionary efforts in Qing China[33]. These frequent visits culminated in the famous 1910 Penang conference which paved the way to the ultimately triumphant Wuchang Uprising which overthrew the Manchu government. Today, Sun Yat-sen's legacy is preserved in the form of the Sun Yat-sen Museum, which was once used by Sun Yat-sen himself to plan the overthrow of the Qing dynasty.

World Wars

Penang comfort women World War 2

Ethnic Malay & Chinese comfort women from Penang taken by the Imperial Japanese Army.

Japanese surrender Penang

A Japanese official signing the Penang surrender document on the Royal Navy battleship, HMS Nelson.

In the 1914 Battle of Penang, the Imperial German Navy cruiser SMS Emden surreptitiously sailed to George Town and sank two Allied warships off its coast – the Russian cruiser Zhemchug and the French destroyer Mousquet[34].

Penang Cenotaph

The Cenotaph at The Esplanade commemorates the fallen Allied soldiers of World War 1.

During the Second World War, George Town suffered devastating Japanese aerial bombardments beginning 11 December 1941[35]. As casualties mounted from the indiscriminate aerial raids, the British authorities decided to silently evacuate Penang's European population, leaving the rest of Penang's Asian population to their fates[36]. The British Army also started to withdraw from Penang, abandoning the Batu Maung Fort at the southeastern tip of Penang Island, and declared George Town an open city. The defenceless island was left in the hands of a State Committee which had to subdue civil unrest and violent crime.

The British withdrawal and the covert evacuation of Europeans caused much disillusionment and injury to the British prestige and image of invincibility. Historians judge that "the moral collapse of British rule in Southeast Asia came not at Singapore, but at Penang"[37].

Penang Island finally fell to the Imperial Japanese Army on 19 December 1941. The Imperial Japanese Army quickly used the only radio station on Penang Island to broadcast a chilling message - "Hello, Singapore, this is Penang calling. How do you like our bombing?"[35].

George Town under Japanese occupation was marked by widespread fear, hunger and the Sook Ching massacres which targeted the local Chinese[38]. Especially notorious was the Japanese military police Kempeitai and its network of informants. The Japanese also took Malay and Chinese girls as comfort women[39].

Nazi Germany U-boat, George Town, Penang

A Kriegsmarine (Nazi Germany Navy) U-boat in George Town during World War 2.

George Town also served as a U-boat base for Nazi Germany's Navy (Kriegsmarine) during the War[40].

The Royal Air Force and United States Army's Twentieth Air Force began bombing raids on George Town in 1944[41]. The destruction of the Penang Secretariat building by Allied bombers in the final months of the occupation caused the loss of the greater part of the British and Japanese records concerning the island, causing enormous difficulties to compile a comprehensive history of Penang. In addition, the Battle of the Malacca Strait took place off Penang Island in May 1945, in which the British Royal Navy sank an Imperial Japanese Navy warship[42].

On 21 August 1945, the Penang Shimbun published a statement of surrender issued by the Emperor of Japan[41]. Under Operation Jurist, a Royal Navy fleet arrived off George Town on 28 August. After the signing of the Japanese surrender document on 2 September, the Royal Marines occupied Penang Island on 3 September. A formal ceremony to signify British repossession of Penang was held on 6 September 1945.


Coat of arms of the City of George Town, Penang

Logo of the City Council of George Town.

George Town's historic buildings remarkably survived virtually unscathed despite the bombings during World War II. However, the political landscape had been changed irreversibly; British prestige and image of invincibility were severely dented, and the end of British imperialism seemed inevitable.

In 1946, the Straits Settlements were dissolved and the British consolidated the Malayan states, including Penang but excluding Singapore, into a single administrative entity, called the Malayan Union[3]. Opposition to the Malayan Union resulted in its replacement by the Federation of Malaya in 1948.

Nonetheless, the idea of the absorption of the British crown colony of Penang into the vast Malay heartland was opposed by some Penangites[43]. The Penang Secessionist Movement (active from 1948 to 1951) attempted to prevent Penang's merger with Malaya, but was ultimately voted down by the British[44][45]. A petition sent to London also met with British disapproval[46][47]. The movement was led by some of the most influential commercial associations in Penang, including the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Penang Indian Chamber of Commerce, and the Penang Clerical and Administrative Staff Union.

In 1951, the British authorities reintroduced local elections of nine of the fifteen municipal commissioners for George Town, the first municipal council in Malaya to do so[48]. By 1956, George Town had become the first municipality in the Malaya to have a fully elected council.

On 1 January 1957, George Town was declared a city by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, becoming the first city in the Federation of Malaya, and the only city in Malaysia (other than Singapore between 1963 and 1965) until 1972, when Kuala Lumpur was granted city status[49]. The first Mayor of George Town was D. S. Ramanathan.

Penang, as a state in the Federation of Malaya, gained independence in 1957, and subsequently became a member state of Malaysia in 1963.

Post Independence Decline

KOMTAR, George Town, Penang

KOMTAR, Penang's tallest skyscraper, was erected in 1974.

In 1965, the Malaysian federal government suspended local elections as a result of the Indonesian Confrontation[50]. By then, the George Town City Council was Malaysia's richest local authority, with annual revenue almost double that of the Penang state government. In response to allegations of maladministration and misconduct, a Royal Commission of Enquiry was set up by the federal government under Senator Athi Nahappan, while the functions of the City Council were temporarily transferred to the Chief Minister of Penang. The Royal Commission recommended the restoration of elected local councils. However, this was never carried out.

The remaining local authorities in Penang, including the Penang Rural District Council, were taken over by the Penang state government in 1971. Following the passing of the Local Government Act 1976, local councils on Penang Island were permanently merged into the Municipal Council of Penang Island[51].

The merger of Penang's local councils led to the controversy of George Town's city status. In the eyes of the Malaysian federal government, George Town no longer existed as a city[52]. However, most citizens of Penang contended that George Town remains a city to this day. In addition, several federal ordinances and acts refer to the City of George Town, such as the City of George Town Ordinance 1957. According to Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) trustee, Datuk Anwar Fazal, a lawyer by profession, George Town "legally has been and is still a city because the City of George Town Ordinance 1957 had not been repealed"[53].

Since the first days of British rule, George Town had been a free port. This free port status was suddenly revoked in 1969, causing massive unemployment in the city, turning away trade and setting the stage for George Town's decline[54].

The Malaysian federal government then began to focus on developing Port Klang and Kuala Lumpur, directing economic development through its control over investment in communication, transport, education and health[19]. Consequently, Kuala Lumpur began replacing George Town as Malaysia's financial hub. Younger residents in George Town moved out into the suburbs, while Penang began to suffer a brain drain as well.

In 1974, the KOMTAR project was launched to revitalise George Town. Hundreds of historical shophouses, schools and temples were demolished and damaged to build Penang's tallest skyscraper, but it failed to revitalise George Town[19].


Penang 2004 tsunami

Gurney Drive was hit by tsunami waves on 26 December 2004.

Penang City Hall, George Town (2)

Penang's colonial City Hall once again serves as the city council headquarters in 2015.

The pre-war houses in the city centre had been protected from urban development by the Rent Control Act, which prohibited landlords from arbitrarily raising rentals. This had allowed the poor to afford the rents for these heritage residences.

However, its repeal in 2000 led to overnight appreciation of house and real estate prices, forcing out tenants of multiple generations to the city outskirts[55]. This sparked concerns about heritage preservation within George Town, which has the largest number of pre-war houses in Southeast Asia.

Other than the decay of the city centre, George Town was plagued with garbage-strewn streets, traffic congestion and dirty beaches[56]. Indeed, the neglect of Penang under the ruling Barisan Nasional had even led to Penang being labelled "Pulau Pinang Darul Sampah" (Penang the Abode of Garbage) by the then Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed[57].

These pressing issues led to vigorous conservation efforts, as well as a media campaign in 2004 to restore George Town's glory. The efforts paid off handsomely when on 7 July 2008, George Town was formally inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, alongside Malacca[1]. It is officially recognised as having "a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia".

The Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 hit the northern coasts of George Town, claiming 52 lives[58].

Whilst George Town had been declared a city by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1957, the entire Penang Island was awarded city status by the Malaysian federal government in 2015[59]. Thus, George Town is the only city in Malaysia to have been conferred city status twice, firstly by the British monarch, and later, by the Malaysian federal government.

Government and Politics

Penang Island City Council

George Town was the birthplace of local councils in Malaysia, with a history stretching all the way back to 1800. In 1857, the Municipal Council of George Town was established.

A century later, George Town became the first city in the Federation of Malaya when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II granted it city status. George Town was the only city in Malaysia (other than Singapore between 1963 and 1965) until 1972, when Kuala Lumpur was granted city status.

However, in 1976, the George Town City Council was merged with the Penang Rural District Council to form the Municipal Council of Penang Island.

In 2015, the entire Penang Island was also granted city status by the Malaysian federal government. In effect, this makes George Town the only city to be granted city status twice.

The Penang Island City Council consists of a mayor, a secretary and 24 councillors[60][61]. The Mayor of Penang Island is appointed by the Penang state government for two years, while each councillor is appointed for one year. The city council is responsible, among others, for regulating traffic and parking, maintaining public parks, cleanliness and drainage, managing waste disposal, issuing business licenses, and overseeing public health.

List of Mayors

Mayors of George Town

Between 1 January 1957 and 1966, George Town was led by three successive mayors. The mayors are listed below.

# Mayor In Office
1 D. S. Ramanathan[62] 1957–1961
2 Ooi Thiam Siew[63] 1961–1964
3 Choy Chooi Yew[64] 1964–1966

In 1966, the functions of the George Town City Council were taken over by the then Chief Minister of Penang, Wong Pow Nee. Penang would not have another mayor until 2015.

Mayors of Penang Island
# Mayor In Office
1 Patahiyah binti Ismail[65] 2015–present

Penang State Government

Penang State Assembly Building

The State Assembly Building at Light Street serves as the legislative 'Parliament' for the State of Penang.

Since 2008, the Penang state government has been controlled by an alliance of opposition parties, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the People's Justice Party (PKR)[66].

After decades of neglect and bias by the ruling Barisan Nasional[19][56], the new Penang state government has been somewhat successful in turning Penang's fortunes around. State debt has been greatly reduced, while Malaysia's Auditor-General has praised Penang for its sound fiscal management[67][68]. George Town's appeal as a clean, artistic historical city has also improved[69]. In addition, Penang has been consistently one of the major investment draws in Malaysia[70], with a well-established manufacturing sector complemented by a growing services industry driven by the tourism boom.

Within the Penang State Legislative Assembly, George Town is divided into 13 constituencies.

Parliament State Seat Name State Aseemblyman Party
P.048 N.22 Tanjong Bunga Teh Yee Cheu DAP
P.048 N.23 Air Puteh Lim Guan Eng DAP
P.048 N.24 Kebun Bunga Cheah Kah Peng PKR
P.048 N.25 Pulau Tikus Yap Soo Huey DAP
P.049 N.26 Padang Kota Chow Kon Yeow DAP
P.049 N.27 Pengkalan Kota Lau Keng Ee DAP
P.049 N.28 Komtar Teh Lai Heng DAP
P.050 N.29 Dato Keramat Jagdeep Singh Deo DAP
P.050 N.30 Sungai Pinang Lim Siew Khim DAP
P.050 N.31 Batu Lanchang Law Heng Kiang DAP
P.051 N.32 Seri Delima R. Nethaji Rayer DAP
P.051 N.33 Air Itam Wong Hon Wai DAP
P.051 N.34 Paya Terubong Yeoh Soon Hin DAP

Malaysian Federal Parliamentary Representation

George Town has four seats in the Malaysian federal Parliament.

Parliament Seat Name Member of Parliament Party
P.048 Bukit Bendera Zairil Khir Johari DAP
P.049 Tanjong Ng Wei Aik DAP
P.050 Jelutong Ooi Chuan Aun DAP
P.051 Bukit Gelugor Ramkarpal Singh a/l Karpal Singh DAP


Supreme Court of Penang, Light Street, George Town, Penang

The Supreme Court of Penang, now located at Light Street, was the birthplace of Malaysia's modern judiciary.

George Town witnessed the birth of the Malaysian legal system, when in 1807, King George III granted a Royal Charter of Justice to form a police force and a Court of Justice in Penang[71]. The Supreme Court of Penang was initially sited at Fort Cornwallis in 1808. Sir Edmond Stanley assumed office as the first Supreme Court Judge in Penang, the first ever judge to serve on Malaysian soil. Interestingly, Sir Stamford Raffles, who would later go on to found Singapore, was the first registrar of the Supreme Court of Penang.

Today, Penang's courts consist of the Magistrates, Sessions and the Supreme Court of Penang, which is located at Light Street.[72]

The Syariah court is a parallel court which hears matters concerning Islamic jurisprudence.

Urban Geography

George Town is one of the densest cities in Malaysia, due to its compact size and a relatively large population. As of 2012, the estimated population density of George Town is 4,449/km2 [73].

The city centre, which includes the UNESCO heritage enclave, is located at the tip of the northeastern promontory of Penang Island. Since an 18-metre (five storey) building height restriction is in effect in the UNESCO World Heritage Site [74], the historical city centre remains relatively untouched by modern urban development, hence preserving the unique colonial-era architecture and cityscape.

Outside the heritage enclave, amidst the more modern urban landscape, skyscrapers can be found to the south, such as KOMTAR (the tallest skyscraper in Penang), and to the west, around Gurney Drive.

Throughout history, urban development has been ongoing in such a way that George Town radiates out across the northeastern plains of Penang Island, towards Air Itam, Farlim and Paya Terubong suburbs in the valleys between the central hill ranges, and towards the south linking up Jelutong and Gelugor suburbs with the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone at the southeastern part of Penang Island. As a result, almost the entire eastern plains of Penang Island have been extensively developed. The contiguous hotel and resort belts of Tanjung TokongTanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringhi along the northern beaches of Penang Island also form the northwestern edges of George Town. Meanwhile, the central hills, including Penang Hill, serve as a giant green lung for George Town and an important forested catchment area.

The shortage of land typical of island cities has led to the mushrooming of the ubiquitous residential high-rises across the city. Land reclamation projects were undertaken to provide more low-lying land in high-demand areas, such as Tanjung Tokong[75] and Jelutong[76].

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Campbell Street, George Town, Penang

Campbell Street within the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site

On 7 July 2008, George Town was formally inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is officially recognised as having a "unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia". George Town has Southeast Asia's largest collection of pre-war buildings[77].

Chowrasta Road, George Town, Penang

A street market within the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site

The heritage core of George Town reflects the city's multicultural and multireligious heritage. Colonial buildings, such as Fort Cornwallis, the City Hall, the Penang State Museum, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, the Jubilee Clock Tower, St. George's Church and the banks' headquarters at Beach Street, stand side-by-side with Chinese shophouses and mansions like the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Hindu temples and Muslim mosques. The zone also covers The Esplanade, the Chinese clan jetties at Weld Quay and Penang Road.

The heritage zone also exudes an atmosphere akin to 1960s Singapore, with hawker stalls, bazaars and markets a part of daily life[78].

Due to strict rental controls before 2000, George Town retains many of its colonial-era shophouses to this day and is often considered an architectural gem. An 18-metre (five storey) building height restriction is in effect within the zone to preserve the landscape of the heritage zone[79].

Street Names

Beach Street sign, George Town, Penang

Bilingual street sign at Beach Street, featuring its Chinese name.

Victoria St, George Town, Penang

Bilingual street sign at Victoria Street.

Like Singapore, and unlike other Malaysian cities, George Town still officially retains most of its colonial street names. Most streets in the city centre were built and named during British rule, and the original English names are still in general use by most local Penangites.

To date, George Town is the only city in Peninsular Malaysia to have bilingual street signs. In 2008, following George Town's listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the new Penang state government put up new bilingual street signs with either Chinese, Arabic or Tamil names throughout George Town, despite opposition from Malay extremists[80][81].

George Town's Suburbs

Air Itam, Penang

Air Itam market, which houses the stall selling the famous asam laksa dish. The well-known Kek Lok Si temple is also in its vicinity.

Greater Penang Conurbation

The Greater Penang Conurbation is the second largest metropolitan area in Malaysia after Greater Kuala Lumpur, with a population of approximately 2.5 million[2]. The metropolitan area is centred in George Town and covers the entire State of Penang, along with the surrounding areas in the neighbouring Sultanate of Kedah[82].

Other than Penang Island, among the towns covered under the conurbation are as follows.

On mainland Seberang Perai:

  • Butterworth
  • Bukit Mertajam
  • Nibong Tebal
  • Kepala Batas

In Kedah :

  • Sungai Petani
  • Kulim
  • Bandar Baharu


Penang haze

Hazy George Town in 2015.

George Town features a tropical rainforest climate, under the Köppen climate classification. Therefore, George Town experiences relatively consistent temperatures throughout the course of the year, with an average high temperature of about 31°C and an average low of 22°C.

While George Town does not have a true dry season, its driest months are between December and February. The wettest period is usually from September to November; frequent thunderstorms can be expected in these months. The city sees on average around 2,550 mm (100.4 in) of precipitation annually.

Like most of Malaysia and Singapore, George Town also faces the annual haze between July and October, due to agricultural fires in Indonesia[83].

Parks and Green Zones

The Penang Botanic Gardens serves as George Town's green lung. Founded in 1884, the botanic garden also consists of a youth park for youth recreational activities and a waterfall[84]. The waterfall is currently still a part of Penang's water supply[85].

To the west of the suburb of Air Itam, lies Penang Hill, the tallest peak of Penang Island at 735 metres above sea level. Penang Hill is a dominant feature in George Town's landscape, often forming a lush, verdant backdrop of the city when seen from the sea.


As the capital city of Penang, George Town is one of the top contributors to Malaysia in terms of Gross Domestic Product and taxes[86][87]. George Town is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Malaysia.


Beach Street, George Town, Penang

Standard Chartered Bank Building at Beach Street, the historic commercial centre of George Town.

George Town was once the centre of banking of Malaysia at a time when Kuala Lumpur was still a small outpost. The oldest bank in Malaysia, Standard Chartered Bank (then the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China) opened its doors in 1875 to cater to the financial requirements of early European traders[88]. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, now known as HSBC, opened its first branch in George Town in 1884[89]. This was followed by a Dutch bank in 1888[90].

Today, George Town remains the banking hub of northern Malaysia, with branches of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation[91], United Overseas Bank[92], Citibank[93] and Bank of China[94], as well as Malaysian banks such as Bank Negara Malaysia (the Malaysian central bank), Public Bank, Maybank, Ambank and CIMB.

Medical Tourism

Penang Adventist Hospital

Penang Adventist Hospital

George Town has been Malaysia's centre of medical tourism, receiving at least half of medical tourist arrivals in Malaysia[11]. An estimated 1,000 tourists travel to George Town every day for medical treatment[95], generating about 70% of Malaysia's medical tourism revenue[96]. Most tourists come from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Singapore.

George Town's numerous private hospitals, such as the Penang Adventist Hospital and the Lam Wah Ee Hospital, offer treatments conducted by well-trained health professionals at more affordable costs.

Wholesale and Retail Trade

George Town is the main shopping destination for northern Malaysia. George Town has a unique retail scene, with centuries-old shophouses still operating alongside flea markets and numerous modern shopping malls in the city.

As of 2001, George Town still had a high supply of shophouses[97]. In comparison, shopping complexes in George Town registered the biggest increases in Malaysia. This increase can be seen in the many shopping malls in George Town, such as Gurney Plaza, 1st. Avenue Mall and Gurney Paragon. The combination of both old and new creates a unique bustling retail sector in George Town, with the best of both worlds.


As George Town is a major tourist attraction, its services sector has been contributing significantly to Penang's economy[98]. Nearly two thirds of Penang's workforce are employed in this sector. Other than the booming wholesale and retail trade, the establishment of hotels and budget hostels has been picking up pace in George Town, along with boutique cafes and restaurants in the heritage zone. Its several shopping malls have also created opportunities in George Town as the entertainment centre for northern Malaysia.


Visited by Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling[99], Queen Elizabeth II[100] and Lee Kuan Yew[101] among many others, George Town has always been a popular tourist destination, both domestically and internationally. As of 2014, Penang attracted 6.84 million tourists[102]. George Town is well known for its rich heritage, its multicultural society and as the food capital of Malaysia, as well as its nearby beaches and hills.

In recent years, George Town has been acclaimed internationally. Among some of the plaudits are as follows.

  • The Los Angeles Times has placed Penang Island as one of the 16 must-see destinations of 2016, citing the city's most historic architecture and its lively food scene[6].
  • The Lonely Planet has named George Town as one of the top 10 cities for travel in 2016[103]. Previously in 2014, Robin Barton of the Lonely Planet listed George Town as the top culinary destination in the world[104].
  • Forbes has named George Town the best budget tourist destination for 2016[7]. In 2014, Forbes had also listed George Town as one of the best budget cities for retirement[8].
  • CNN has placed George Town as one of Asia's top street food cities[5]. In 2016, George Town was placed sixth in CNN's top 10 places to retire in the world, the highest among Asian cities.[9]
  • The British newspaper, The Guardian had also listed Penang as a top 10 destination in 2014[4].


Fort Cornwallis, George Town, Penang-0

Fort Cornwallis is Malaysia's oldest and largest fort.

Fort Cornwallis is one of the most historical landmarks in George Town. The fort marks the spot where Captain Francis Light, the founder of Penang Island first landed on 17 July 1786 and was initially built to protect the new settlement of George Town. Some of the original structures built over a century ago are still standing, such as a chapel, prison cells, ammunition stores, a lighthouse, the original flagstaff and several old bronze cannons, one of which is a Dutch cannon called the Seri Rambai, dated 1603.

Penang Jubilee Clock Tower, George Town

Jubilee Clock Tower, commissioned in 1897 for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

The city centre has been accorded the UNESCO World Heritage Site status since 2008, due to its "unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia". British colonial architecture is more pronounced within the civic precint of George Town around Light Street and Farquhar Street, such as the Penang City Hall and the Supreme Court of Penang, as well as the commercial centre around Beach Street. Pitt Street is known as the Street of Harmony, as historical places of worship for several religions co-exist within the same street. Chinese shophouses with their ubiquitous five foot ways are a common feature all over the Heritage Site.

In addition, George Town's Heritage Site houses several museums. Among the more famous ones are the Penang State Museum and the Sun Yat-sen Museum, which was once used by Sun Yat-sen to hatch plans to overthrow the Qing dynasty.

Heritage & Culture

Penang Peranakan Mansion, George Town

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion at Church Street is a fine example of Peranakan architecture.

Penang Cheong Fatt Tze mansion

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion at Leith Street

The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion was built in the 1880s by Chinese master craftsmen. The famous indigo-blue Chinese Courtyard House in George Town was the residence of Chinese Consul and businessman Cheong Fatt Tze, and was built with 38 rooms, 5 granite-paved courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows. Its impressive hybrid Chinese-European architecture aside, it possesses a rare collection of sculptures, carvings, tapestries and other antiques.

Kek Lok Si, Penang

The entire Kek Lok Si temple is lit up every Chinese New Year.

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is actually a former residence of a Chinese Kapitan, Chung Keng Kwee. The mansion was rehabilitated to its former glory and turned into a museum which showcases Peranakan antiques. Here, one can get a glimpse of the lives of the Peranakans, also known as the Straits Chinese or the King's Chinese, who descended from interracial Sino-Malay marriages. The Peranakans had formed the wealthier class in the Straits Settlements and were fiercely loyal British subjects, distinguishing them from the more recent Chinese arrivals at the time[105].

Iron caricature, George Town, Penang

A wrought iron caricature at Victoria Street.

Also known as the Temple of Supreme Bliss, Kek Lok Si is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. Its main draw is the striking seven-storey Pagoda of Rama VI (Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas) and 30.2m bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.

Little children on a bicycle mural, George Town, Penang

Children on a Bicycle mural by Ernest Zacharevic at Armenian Street.

Creative forms of street art can be found throughout the city. The trend was started by Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, who began painting a series of wall murals in various parts of the city in 2012. They now stand as celebrated cultural landmarks of George Town, with Children on a Bicycle being one of the most photographed spots in the city[106]. Since then, the arts scene has flourished, with the addition of humourous wrought iron caricatures and an exhibition centre at the former Hin Bus Depot.

In addition, George Town plays host to a unique form of Chingay parade. Popular throughout Malaysia and Singapore, Penang's version of Chingay parade contains the unique giant flag-balancing performance.


Penang laksa

Penang asam laksa

Penang char kuey teow

Penang's char kuey teow is said to be different from its Singaporean counterpart due to the latter's sweeter taste.

As Malaysia's food capital, George Town is frequented by locals, Malaysians and foreign tourists alike. Penang cuisine reflects the city's history as a cultural melting pot, offering a diverse and exotic mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Peranakan, European and Thai influences.

Some of the best of Penang food can be sampled at Gurney Drive. The popular seafront promenade offers both delightful street and high-end cuisine. At the food court, you can find local favourites, such as Penang asam laksa, bak kut teh (a herbal stew of pork ribs and meat), oh chien (fried oyster omelette), grilled squid, nasi lemak and chendol. Great Penang cuisine can also be found in various parts of the city, such as Chulia Street, Kimberley Street, Penang Road and Pulau Tikus and Air Itam. Several tau sar pneah shops can also be found throughout the city, selling delectable bean paste biscuits.

Penang was recognised as having the best street food in Asia by the Time magazine in 2004, citing that "nowhere else can such great tasting food be so cheap"[107]. In 2014, Penang was named the top food destination worldwide by Robin Barton of the Lonely Planet[104]. According to Barton, "its food reflects the intermingling of the many cultures that arrived after it was set up as a trading port in 1786, from Malays to Indians, Acehenese to Chinese, Burmese to Thais. State capital Georgetown is its culinary epicentre." CNN has also listed Penang as one of Asia's 10 greatest street food cities[5], while The Culture Trip website listed Penang as one of the best cities in the world for food in 2016[108].


The most popular beaches are located at the northwestern edge of George Town. The contiguous beaches of Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringhi are home to George Town's famed hotel and resort belt.
Batu Ferringhi, Penang

Parasailing off Batu Ferringhi beach.

Gurney Drive Penang

Gurney Drive

Other than that, Gurney Drive is the most popular seafront promenade in the city. The area includes Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon shopping malls, as well as the adjacent Gurney food court. Gurney Drive also has Penang's most modern and developed skyline, due to the high-rise hotels and skyscrapers lining the seaside.

Another famous promenade in George Town is The Esplanade, located next to Fort Cornwallis in the centre of the heritage zone. In recent years, the newly-developed Karpal Singh Drive in the Jelutong suburb has been gaining popularity as well.


Gurney Plaza, George Town, Penang

Gurney Plaza at Gurney Drive

Kuala Kangsar Road, George Town, Penang (3)

A street market along Jalan Kuala Kangsar, just behind Chowrasta Market.

George Town serves as the main shopping destination in northern Malaysia. It has several modern shopping malls offering a wide range of merchandise. Among the more popular ones are Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon at the famed Gurney Drive1st. Avenue Mall and Penang Times Square within the city centre.

Traditional bazaars such as the Chowrasta Market and Campbell Street, and makeshift open-air night markets known as pasar malam, were the precursors to today's shopping malls. They offer goods ranging from modern electronics and textiles to foodstuffs and local produce.

Traditional Chinese and European shophouses are still active, offering tourists a unique retail experience with an old world charm. Several traditional shophouses have also been refurbished into trendy boutique cafes, restaurants and budget hostels, adding to the vibe of George Town.

Culture and Heritage


Penang Thaipusam

Thaipusam is celebrated by Hindus every January.

The cultural mosaic of George Town naturally means that there are a great many number of festivals to celebrate in any given year.

The Chinese celebrate, among others, the Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, Hungry Ghost Festival, Qing Ming, and the celebrations of various Taoist deities. The Malays and Muslims celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Hari Raya Haji, and Maulidur Rasul, while Hindus observe Deepavali, Thaipusam and Thai Pongal. Christmas, Good Friday and Easter are celebrated by Christians. Buddhists in George Town also observe Wesak Day while the Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi.

Penang chingay

Penang version of Chingay.

Aside from these festivities, George Town plays host to a unique form of street parade, known as the Chingay. George Town hosted the first ever Chingay parade in Southeast Asia in 1905[109]. Since then, Chingay parades have spread throughout Singapore and Malaysia. Penang's version of the Chingay parade is unique compared to the rest of Malaysia in that the balancing of giant flags on the forehead or hands is an essential performance. It was said that after the 1972 ban on firecrackers in Singapore had dampened the Chinese New Year festive mood, the then Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew suggested the staging of a Chingay parade similar to those held in George Town, even to the extent of borrowing the flag-balancing performance from the Penang version[110].

The Penang state government organises the annual George Town Festival which celebrates the city's World Heritage Site status with arts and live cultural performances throughout the month of July or August. With over 100 unique events each year, the George Town Festival is quickly becoming one of Asia’s must-see cultural events.

Every Sunday, the Occupy Beach Street event sees a stretch of Beach Street being turned into pedestrian-friendly zones filled with recreational and fun social activities[111].

New Year's Day festivities are usually held at various spots throughout George Town, including Gurney Drive, The EsplanadePenang Times Square and Karpal Singh Drive. In the morning, an annual City Walk is held within the UNESCO World Heritage Site to commemorate George Town's city status, which was granted on 1 January 1957, drawing thousands of people[112].

Bon Odori is an annual event held at The Esplanade by the expatriate Japanese population.


Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang Dec 2006 003

The Eastern & Oriental Hotel at Farquhar Street.

The architecture of George Town is a durable testament of her history – a culmination of over a century and a half of British presence, as well as the confluence of immigrants and the culture they brought with them.

Fort Cornwallis, right next to The Esplanade, was the first British structure built in George Town. Outstanding examples of colonial period buildings include the City Hall, the European-style buildings along Beach Street, the Penang State Museum, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel and St. George's Church – all of which are located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Suffolk House, the former residence of Penang's British governors, on the banks of the Air Itam river is an example of the Anglo-Indian garden house. The stately Seri Mutiara (formerly known as the Residency), completed in 1890 as the residence of Penang's British Resident Councillors, is today the official residence of the Governor.

Chinese influence is visible at the many ornate clan houses, temples, pre-war shophouses, and mansions such as the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. The Clan Jetties are a collection of water villages at Weld Quay.

As a former Straits Settlement, Peranakan influence is also visible in Penang's architecture, a prominent example being the Pinang Peranakan Mansion.

The Indian community built many elaborate temples such as the Mahamariamman temple, while Muslim influence can be seen at the Kapitan Keling Mosque, the Acheh Mosque, and the Penang Islamic Museum. Meanwhile, the P. Ramlee Museum is an excellent example of traditional Malay stilt houses.

Wat chayamangkalaram, George Town, Penang

Wat Chaiyamangkalaram is a famous Thai Buddhist temple within the suburb of Pulau Tikus.

Thai and Burmese architecture can be appreciated within the suburb of Pulau Tikus, as can be seen at Wat Chaiyamangkalaram and Dhammikarama Buddhist temples. Meanwhile, the Kek Lok Si temple in the suburb of Air Itam contains a fusion of Thai, Burmese and Chinese architecture.

Modern structures and skyscrapers also abound in George Town, sometimes side by side with heritage buildings. To this day, the KOMTAR tower remains the tallest skyscraper in Penang.

Performance Arts

Boria is a traditional dance drama indigenous to Penang, featuring singing accompanied by violin, maracas and tabla.

Chinese opera (usually the Teochew and Hokkien versions) is frequently performed throughout George Town, often in specially built platforms, especially during the annual Hungry Ghost Festival. There are also puppetry performances, although they are not as frequently performed today.

Museums and Galleries

Penang State Museum

Penang State Museum, Farquhar Street, George Town

The Penang State Museum houses relics, photographs, maps, paintings and other artefacts that document the history and culture of Penang and its people.

Penang Camera Museum, George Town, Penang

Camera Museum, Muntri Street, George Town

George Town also houses several other museums such as the Camera Museum, Batik Painting Museum, the Sun Yat-sen Museum and the Penang Islamic Museum.

Made-in-Penang Interactive Museum, George Town, Penang

Made-in-Penang Interactive Museum, Weld Quay, George Town

More recently, a few 3D visual museums have been opened in George Town, such as the Made-in-Penang Interactive Museum and the Penang Time Tunnel[113][114].


Aside from the mainstream dailies in national publication, such as The Star (English), The Sun (English), Berita Harian (Malay), Harian Metro (Malay), Kwong Wah Yit Poh (Chinese), Sin Chew Daily (Chinese), Tamil Nesan (Tamil) and Malaysia Nanban (Tamil), the Penang state government publishes its own multilingual newspaper, the Buletin Mutiara, which is given for free every fortnight. The Penang-centric newspaper focuses on the current issues affecting Penang.

In 2011, the Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng officiated the launch of Time Out Penang, which is currently published in three versions - a yearly printed guide, a regularly updated website and mobile app.

George Town's well-preserved urban landscape has been used as a backdrop in several movies, notably Anna and the King and Lust, Caution. Some Singaporean Chinese drama series, such as The Little Nyonya and The Journey: Tumultuous Times, were also shot in George Town, due to the similar old-world architecture that both former Straits Settlements used to share, but which was lost in Singapore after decades of urban development.

The following is a list of available FM radio stations in George Town, including the Penang-based Mutiara FM.

Frequency Station Operator Language
87.8 One FM Media Prima Mandarin, Cantonese
88.2 Hot FM Media Prima Malay
89.9 Fly FM Media Prima English
91.0 Mix FM AMP Radio Networks English
92.8 Hitz FM AMP Radio Networks English
93.9 Mutiara FM RTM Malay
94.5 988 FM Star RFM Radio Mandarin, Cantonese
94.9 Klasik FM RTM Malay
96.7 Minnal FM RTM Tamil
97.1 Sinar FM AMP Radio Networks Malay
98.1 Red FM Star RFM Radio English
98.7 TraXX FM RTM English
99.3 THR FM AMP Radio Networks Tamil
99.7 My FM AMP Radio Networks Mandarin, Cantonese
101.3 Ai FM RTM Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien
102.4 Suria FM Star RFM Radio Malay
103.6 Era FM AMP Radio Networks Malay
104.4 Lite FM AMP Radio Networks English
107.6 Capital FM Star RFM Radio English


As one of Malaysia's major cities, George Town is well-connected by land, air and sea. Also, George Town's compact size, its well-developed road network and the various modes of public transportation, make it easy for locals and tourists alike to travel within the city.


George Town tram, Penang

A tram in George Town. In the past, the city could boast of having the best transportation system in Malaysia.

In the past, George Town had the best public transportation system in Malaysia, with electric trams, trolleybuses and also double-decker buses plying its streets. The first steam tramway started operations in the 1880s[115], while electrical trams were launched in 1905. Trolleybuses commenced operations in 1925 and they gradually supplanted the trams[116].

The George Town Municipal Transport (GTMT) operated both the trams and the trolleybuses. In the 1950s, the GTMT bought ex-London Transport trolleybuses. Despite having purchased new Sunbeam British trolleybuses in 1957, the trolleybus system was abandoned in 1961. The use of double-decker buses ceased in the 1970s while the network was being taken over by private buses.

Trolleybus, George Town, Penang

A trolleybus in George Town

One of the earliest modes of transportation in George Town was the horse hackney carriage which was popular throughout the last quarter of the 18th century until 1935, when the rickshaw (jinriksha) gained popularity, until it in turn was rapidly superseded by the trishaw beginning in 1941. Cycle rickshaws and trishaws are still in use today, mostly for sightseeing rides.

Meanwhile, George Town's air and sea links were also developed during the colonial era. Under the Straits Settlement government, the Penang International Airport was opened in 1935[117]. The Penang Ferry Service began its operations in 1920, linking the city with the town of Butterworth on the mainland[118].

Roads, Highways and Bridges


The Second Penang Bridge, the longest bridge in Southeast Asia.

George Town has an extensive road network dating back to the first days of British colonial rule. Outside the narrow streets of George Town, more modern roads link the city centre with the surrounding suburbs of Tanjung TokongAir ItamJelutong and Gelugor.

The Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu Expressway connects the city to the Penang Bridge, the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone and the Penang International Airport. With this highway, trips to the airport were cut short to 30 minutes instead of almost an hour in the past.

Penang Island is connected to the Malay Peninsula by the Penang Bridge and the Second Penang Bridge. The Penang Bridge, which links the southernmost suburb of Gelugor with mainland Malay Peninsula, provides a more direct connection to George Town from the mainland. The Second Penang Bridge is located further south, linking Batu Maung on the southeastern part of Penang Island to Batu Kawan on the mainland.

Public Transportation

Penang beca trishaw

Trishaws at Penang Road, known as beca in Malay, are normally used by tourists.


This particular Rapid Penang CAT bus offers free rides within George Town city centre. Elsewhere on the island, a ride can cost between RM1.40 to RM4.00. (Prices are quoted in Malaysian Ringgit.)

Rapid Penang is the sole bus company in Penang. Almost every bus connects George Town to other parts of Penang, with Weld Quay being the main terminal and KOMTAR being the main hub. Rapid Penang also operates a free daily bus service around George Town, taking commuters and tourists on a drive along George Town's famous heritage sites. Recently, open-air double decker buses, known as Hop-On Hop-Off buses, have been introduced for tourists.

George Town also has numerous cycle rickshaws and trishaws plying its streets. It is one of the few cities in Southeast Asia wherecycle rickshaws and trishaws still ply the streets.

To facilitate easier and more flexible movement for tourists in George Town's heritage zone, rental bicycles are being introduced and marketed by several companies in George Town[119]. Efforts are being carried out by the Penang state government to make George Town a cyclists' haven and a pedestrian-friendly city, including by introducing dedicated cycling lanes[120].

Since 2015, Uber has been in widespread use throughout Penang[121].

Express buses now stop at the Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal to the south between George Town and the airport, instead of KOMTAR previously. There are several express bus companies operating round the clock, and the main destinations include Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and southern Thailand.


Funicular to the top of the Penang Hill, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

The Penang Hill Railway, the only working rail system in George Town. This funicular train coach is relatively new, being introduced into service in 2011.

Old tram tracks, George Town, Penang

An old tram line at the junction between Chulia Street and Penang Road

George Town used to operate both trams and trolleybuses. The early tramway system had been steadily replaced by trolleybuses, first introduced in 1925. In the 1950s, ex-London Transport trolleybuses were brought into the city. Despite having purchased new Sunbeam British trolleybuses in 1957, the trolleybus system was abandoned in 1961. To this day, tram lines can still be seen in the city centre[122].

The only rail-based transportation currently available on Penang Island is the Penang Hill Railway, a funicular railway to the top of Penang Hill. It is also the only cable car rail system of its kind in Malaysia. It was an engineering feat of sorts when completed in 1923.

Penang Transport Master Plan

Penang Transport Master Plan

The Penang Transport Master Plan envisages trams in George Town, LRT and monorail lines linking the city to its southern, western and northwestern suburbs as well as the airport, and even a cable car and an undersea tunnel connecting the city with the mainland.

Since 2013, the Penang state government has been mooting the Penang Transport Master Plan[123]. The plan envisages, among others :

With the completion of the plan slated in 2065, the Penang state government aims to have multiple public transportation systems on the ground, at sea and even in the air.

Due to intensifying political conflicts, as of 2016, the Barisan Nasional-led Malaysian federal government has refused to fund the project[126]. It is understood that the Penang state government intends to continue with the plan, with or without federal assistance.


Penang Airport MRD

The Penang International Airport is located 14km to the south of George Town.

The Penang International Airport is one of the oldest airports in Malaysia, being opened in 1935 when Penang was governed as a Straits Settlement[117]. Also one of the busiest airports in Malaysia, it serves as the main airport of the northern part of Malaysia. The airport has good connections to major Asian cities, such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Taipei.

The airport is the hub of two Malaysian low-cost carriers, Airasia and Firefly. As the second busiest Malaysian airport in terms of cargo traffic, the Penang International Airport also serves as an important cargo hub due to the large presence of multinational factories in the nearby Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone.

The Penang International Airport won the Best Emerging Airport (Asia) award in the 23rd annual Asian Freight and Supply Chain Awards 2009 (AFSCA) and Airport of the Year (below 15 million passenger annually) in the 2009 Frost and Sullivan Asia Pacific Aerospace and Defence Awards[127].

The airport has been a source of contention between the Penang state government and the Malaysian federal government. In recent years, calls by the Penang state government to expand the airport largely went unheeded by the Malaysian federal government, even though the airport is reaching its maximum capacity of 6.5 million passengers[128].


Butterworth ferries

Penang ferries at the Butterworth ferry terminal.

The Penang Ferry Service connects George Town with Butterworth. It is the oldest ferry service in Malaysia; it commenced operations in 1920[118]. Currently, four ferries ply the Penang Strait between George Town and Butterworth every day[129]. Although the ferry service, which is run by a federal government-linked commission, has been incurring losses, the ferry service continues to be a convenient mode of transportation for local Penangites travelling to Butterworth.

A separate ferry service also connects George Town with the island of Langkawi[130] to the north.

Seaport and Shipping

Swettenham Pier Penang

Cruise ships at Swettenham Pier on George Town's northeastern coast.

The Port of Penang is one of the major ports of Malaysia[131], although the Port of Singapore's pre-eminence as the Southeast Asia's entrepot, the loss of George Town's free port status and the development of Port Klang have reduced its importance somewhat[19][132]. The former Straits Settlement harbour is now operated by the Penang Port Commission. There are four terminals - one on George Town's northeastern coast (Swettenham Pier) and three on the mainland. With Malaysia being one of the largest exporting nations in the world, the Port of Penang plays a leading role in the nation's shipping industry, linking George Town to more than 200 ports worldwide.

Swettenham Pier typically accommodates cruise ships[133]. Cruise tourism is one of the major industries in George Town; as of 2014, Swettenham Pier attracted 1.2 million tourists to George Town and drew some of the largest cruise liners in the world, such as the RMS Queen Mary 2[102]. A number of cruise ships also call Swettenham Pier as their homeport, bringing tourists into and out of George Town towards regional destinations such as Singapore and Phuket.

On occasion, the Port of Penang plays host to warships of several navies, such as the Republic of Singapore Navy[134], the Royal Australian Navy[135], the Royal Thai Navy[136], the United States Navy[137] and the Royal Canadian Navy[138].


Penang Stadium

Penang City Stadium

A number of sporting facilities are located in the city, including the Nicol David International Squash Centre which was named after Nicol Ann David. The top squash player was born in Penang.

The City Stadium is currently the home of the Penang state football team and is famous for vociferous home support dubbed the "Keramat Roar".

The Penang Turf Club is the oldest of its kind in Malaysia.



Penang Free School's front entrance

George Town is home to some of the oldest schools in the region; these schools were established during the earliest days of British rule and has educated the most influential lawmakers, politicians, professionals and businessmen.

In recent years, several international schools have been established in the city to cater for a sizeable expatriate population. International schools, which offer up to A-level and International Baccalaureate curriculum, also serve as a higher-quality alternative for local Penangites seeking to send their children abroad for further studies.

In terms of tertiary education, George Town has a public university - Universiti Sains Malaysia, which is located at the southern suburb of Gelugor. Universiti Sains Malaysia is one of the top research universities in Malaysia. Other than that, George Town is the northern centre for many private colleges in Malaysia.

George Town's relatively well-educated populace is reflected in the fact that Penang has the third highest Human Development Index in the nation[139].

English Schools

George Town is one of a few cities in Malaysia with several missionary schools. These are Christian and English-language schools which were founded back in the first days of British colonial era.

Although these schools have been nominally absorbed into the national public schooling system as national schools, these schools still maintain a sense of English tradition.

Chinese Schools

Chinese schools in George Town have brilliant reputations of producing high-quality students, which are highly-sought after.

Some of these schools are privately-funded and offer the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC), which is recognised by universities abroad such as in Singapore, Taiwan and China[140]. The UEC is not accepted by Malaysian public universities, resulting in UEC graduates leaving Malaysia for further studies.

  • Chung Ling High School
  • Penang Chinese Girls' High School
  • Heng Ee High School
  • Han Chiang High School
  • Phor Tay High School
  • Chung Hwa Confucian High School
  • Convent Datuk Keramat

International Schools

  • Dalat International School
  • International School of Penang (Uplands)
  • Tenby International School
  • St. Christopher’s International Primary School
  • Pelita International School

Tamil Schools

At present, Tamil education is limited to Tamil public primary schools.

  • SJK(T) Azad
  • SJK(T) Ramakrishna
  • SJK(T) Jalan Sungai


  • Penang Medical College
  • KDU College
  • SEGi College Penang
  • SENTRAL College
  • Olympia College
  • Equator Academy of Art
  • Han Chiang College
  • Wawasan Open University

Tertiary Education

Universiti Sains Malaysia

Health Care

Health care in George Town is provided by public as well as private hospitals. The public health care system, first established by the colonial authorities, was supplemented by health care provided by local Chinese charities, and Christian missionaries such as Roman Catholics and the Seventh-day Adventist.

The Penang General Hospital is George Town's only public hospital and a tertiary-care regional referral centre. In addition, community clinics (klinik kesihatan in Malay) and private practices can be found throughout the city.

As the centre of Malaysia's medical tourism, George Town has several private hospitals which offer better facilities, well-trained health professionals and speedier care. These hospitals cater to local Penangites as well as medical tourists from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Singapore. George Town has been receiving at least half of medical tourist arrivals in Malaysia[11]. An estimated 1,000 tourists a day travel to George Town for medical treatment[95]. As of 2010, 250,000 foreign patients were treated in George Town, bringing in an estimated revenue of RM 230 million. Indeed, 70% of Malaysia's medical tourism revenue came from the private hospitals of George Town[96].

Hospices are also increasingly becoming the choice for long-term and terminal care. Infant mortality rate at present is 0.4% while life expectancy at birth is 71.8 years for men and 76.3 years for women[141].

Private Hospitals

  • Island Hospital
  • Gleneagles Medical Centre
  • Pantai Mutiara Hospital
  • Loh Guan Lye Specialist Centre
  • Lam Wah Ee Hospital
  • Penang Adventist Hospital
  • Tanjung Medical Centre
  • Mt Miriam Hospital
  • Carl Corrynton Medical Centre

International Relations

Sister Cities

George Town has six sister cities.


Several countries have set up their consulates or appointed honorary consulates in George Town.

George Town's Firsts

  • George Town became the first British settlement in Southeast Asia in 1786.
  • George Town became a city by a royal charter granted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 1 January 1957, becoming the first town in the Federation of Malaya to become a city.
  • George Town and Malacca are the first cities in Malaysia to be granted the UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
  • The Penang Island City Council is the successor of the Municipal Council of George Town, Malaysia's oldest local council.
  • Standard Chartered Bank, the oldest bank in Malaysia, opened its doors in 1875.
  • The Penang Hill Railway, opened in 1923, is the first funicular hill railway in Malaysia.
  • The Penang Ferry Service is the oldest ferry service in Malaysia, commencing operations in 1920.
  • The Second Penang Bridge is the longest bridge in Southeast Asia.
  • Penang is the first state in Malaysia to introduce free wi-fi for public use in all public areas.
  • Penang is the first state in Malaysia to launch the "No Plastic Bag Day" campaign.
  • On 1 January 1906, Malaysia's first electric tramway began operations in George Town.
  • The Penang Botanic Gardens, established in 1884, is Malaysia's first botanic gardens.
  • The Royal Malaysian Police traces its roots to the 1807 "Charter of Justice" awarded by King George III for Penang to form the police force and the Court of Justice.
  • The country's first newspaper was published in George Town in 1805 – the Prince of Wales Island Gazette.
  • Penang Free School, which was founded by Rev. Sparke Hutchings in 1816, is the first and the oldest English school in Southeast Asia. But the very first school was a Malay-language school started by Father Antonio Garnault in 1786 which evolves into today's St. Xavier's Institution.
  • St. Xavier's Institution, established in 1852, is the first school established in Southeast Asia to be administered and fully owned by the La Salle Brothers.
  • St. George's Church, completed in 1818, is the oldest Anglican Church in Southeast Asia and the only building in Penang that was declared one of the 50 National Treasures by the Malaysian federal government.
  • Sekolah Kebangsaan Gelugor, founded in 1826, is the first Malay school to be established in Malaysia.
  • Convent Light Street, a girls' school established by a French Sisters' Mission in 1852, is the oldest girls' school in Southeast Asia.
  • Chung Hwa Confucian School founded by Cheong Fatt Tze in 1904, is one of the oldest formal Chinese schools established in Southeast Asia as a result of influence by the educational reforms in Qing China in the early 1900s. Mandarin is the school's medium of instruction.
  • Phor Tay High School, founded in 1940, is the first Buddhist school in Malaysia.
  • The Penang Turf Club, established in 1864, is Malaysia's oldest horse racing and equestrian centre.
  • Malaysia's oldest Chinese newspaper still in circulation today, Kwong Wah Yit Poh (光华日报) was founded on 20 December 1910 by Dr. Sun Yat-sen in George Town.
  • St. Nicholas' Home Penang, a social outreach ministry under the Anglican Church founded in 1926, is first charitable organisation serving the needs of the blind and visually impaired community of Malaysia. St. Nicholas' Home also started the first blind school in Malaysia.
  • George Town Dispensary is the earliest dispensary in the then Malaya. It was opened in 1895.
  • Penang Butterfly Farm, established in 1986, is the world's first butterfly and insect sanctuary to be set up in the tropical world.
  • The Camera Museum, newly established in 2012, is Southeast Asia's first and only camera museum with extensive collections & the origin of the invention.
  • The Federation School for the Deaf, founded in April 1954, is the first deaf school in Federation of Malaya.

References in Popular Culture

George Town was the shooting location for a number of movies, most notably :

  • Indochine (France, 1992), featuring Catherine Deneuve and Vincent Perez.
  • Beyond Rangoon (USA/UK, 1995).
  • Paradise Road (USA/Australia – 1997), starring Glenn Close and Frances McDormand.
  • Anna and the King (USA, 1999) featuring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-fat.
  • Ibu Mertuaku (Malaysia, 1962), featuring P. Ramlee and Sarimah.
  • The Touch (Hong Kong, 2002), featuring Michelle Yeoh.
  • Lust, Caution (Taiwan, 2007), directed by Ang Lee.
  • Sun Yat-sen biography film Road to Dawn (China, 2007), featuring Winston Chao and Angelica Lee.
  • The Blue Mansion (Singapore, 2010), featuring Patrick Teoh.
  • Ice Kacang Puppy Love (Malaysia, 2010), featuring Ah Niu and Angelica Lee.

Other than that, several television series were also shot in George Town.

  • The Little Nyonya (Singapore, 2008)
  • The Journey: Tumultuous Times (Singapore, 2014)
  • The Amazing Race 16 Episode 8.
  • Asia's Next Top Model (season 2) Episode 8.
  • Indian Summers (UK, 2015)


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